You’re on the street again after all these years. Your work life went by in a blink. Maybe you’re interviewing at this late date because you have to work – your retirement nest egg just won’t cut it for the rest of your life. Or maybe you’re one of those active baby boomers who still feel too young and energetic to let go.
Either way, you’ve already taken a few interviews and are flabbergasted by the mindless questions employers are now hurling at you. It’s the same old, same old you used to hear when you first entered the job market years ago. But it’s actually gotten worse. You’d actually welcome a truly probing interview question once in a while. It would ring through as a challenge should you be fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be hired.
But what are you supposed to make of this boiler-plate nonsense? The job you liked the most, and why? The job you liked the least and why? C’mon – wouldn’t the interviewer who asked those questions fall on the floor if you replied the job you liked least was the one in which your employer started off your whole wretched relationship by asking you these dumb questions? And that question about why you left your third job just because you were employed there for 10 years. Did she actually expect you to reveal that if you worked one more minute for that boss, you’d have to check into a looney bin?
The French have a wonderful expression for the psychology of dealing with this whole mess. They refer to it as l’esprit de l’escalier – roughly translated, “the mentality of the staircase.” What the expression refers to are the thoughts one has (too late in the game) while walking downstairs, or leaving the premises after the discussion or argument. The expression is perfect for capturing your thoughts about the interview you’d love to have taken -- as opposed to the interview you actually took.
In this spirit, let’s have a look at some of the most idiotic questions hiring managers are throwing out there these days. For each question, we’ll suggest an answer which, in our humble and helpful opinion, will represent a safe bet. Then we’ll offer the answer you’d just love to give -- the one that occurs to you as you “descend the stairs” or leave the building.
What is Your Five-Year Plan?
Safe-bet Answer -- “The job opportunity, as you present it, seems to hold a great deal of challenge. Honestly, it seems to present growth possibility sufficient to keep even the most qualified job candidate busy over the next five years.”
The Answer You’d Love to Give --“‘Five-year plan?’ C’mon, Dude – if I could predict the future, you think I’d settle for the measly salary you’re offering? And, even if I could, do you think I’d clue you in right now if I were after your job in five years?”
What are Your Weaknesses?
Safe-bet Answer -- “I tend to get very intense about my job. Too often, I rely a bit too much on my supervisor to get me to lighten up – and to remind me that, after all, there’s always tomorrow.”
The Answer You’d Love to Give -- “Duuuhh, right! Like I’m really gonna’ come clean this very minute about how I need to check my Facebook Page or call my girlfriend when I feel bored on the job.”
Do You Consider Yourself an Honest Person?
Safe-bet Answer –“Yes, I do. And I’d encourage you to direct that same question to my references.”
The Answer You’d Love to Give – “May I use your phone? I need to check with my attorney.”
Who is the One Famous Person You’d Like to Have Dinner with?
Safe-bet Answer – “Tom Watson, the renowned chairman and CEO of IBM. He once said: ‘To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.’ ”
The Answer You’d Love to Give – (Men) “Halle Berry. My God, what a fox!” (Women) “Ryan Gosling- I’d Give Anything to Have His Children!”
Tell Me about Yourself.
Safe-Bet Answer -- (Turn the question around): “Would you prefer I start with my last job, or would you like me to tell you about how I’ve generally dealt with problems like those I’ll be encountering on the job if I’m lucky enough to get an offer from you?”
The Answer You’d Love to Give -- (Turn this question around too) “Would you prefer I start with my wild love life between marriages five and six? Or would you like to hear about how I successfully represented myself in court after a bogus shoplifting charge?”
Oh – and one more thing. Here’s how you might find out whether you landed the right job. After six months on the job, if you can print out this little essay and show it to your boss after work over a drink– and then the both of you smile – your work atmosphere is probably as good as it gets. On the other hand, if you’re afraid to share this with your supervisor, you might want to consider keeping your résumé in circulation.